Paul T.’s litany of complaints against any formal, institutional expression of religious belief, covers the gamut of villains in religious institutional life.

By contrast, in his own religious expression at the beach Mr. T, encounters,

No guilt there (like confessions, offering plates, outmoded homophobic and anti-women scriptures).

I am pretty sure I have experienced guilt at the beach on occasion, some of it well-deserved I imagine.

Confessions are simply an acknowledgement of the brokenness of the human condition. Unless our vision of what it means to be human is dismally low, we are probably conscious of occasionally falling below the standards of goodness, beauty, and selfless love to which we sense we are called. For me, confession is honesty. I acknowledge that I fall short of perfection, and need assistance in coming closer to the wonder of what it means to be truly human.

Offering plates are part of a deep symbol system in our community. They are not a cash grab to finance the religion business. When we pass the offering plate, we embody our conviction that all of life is a gift and we desire to respond with generous giving to our awareness of the blessings we have received.

It is true there are texts in my tradition that carry attitudes, thoughts, and worldviews to which I do not subscribe and which I would not want anyone to hold. However this is always going to be true with ancient texts. If I connect myself with any tradition that reaches back further than fifty years, there will be aspects of that tradition that do not sit well with current understanding.

It is tragic to throw overboard the richness of all sacred texts just because they do not fully embody every part of twenty-first century wisdom. How sad, simply because the author did not have an enlightened vision of women, to lose the beauty of “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (I Corinthians 13:4-8)

We would be an impoverished culture if we dismissed wisdom from any source that does not conform to enlightened 21st century sensibilities.

My spiritual life has been deepened by wrestling with difficult ancient texts seeking to penetrate to the deeper meaning beneath those aspects of the texts that may be awkward in my current context.

Paul T. prefers the beach because, there he finds

Nobody preaching at me.

I preach most Sundays, but seek to avoid “preaching at” anyone. Preaching has been defined as “One beggar showing another beggar where to find bread.”  When I preach, I am searching for bread. I certainly try not to impose anything on anyone. I aim to open space for exploration and to encourage the congregation to explore the depths and mystery of our sacred texts and discern how they might apply those texts today.

And when he communes with the divine Presence in creation Mr. T. finds,

then I don’t have to be boxed into a space that’s uncomfortable and be separate from creation by concrete walls.

We work hard in our church, as I know do many other faith communities, to avoid forcing anyone “to be boxed into a space.”

Meditation on the beach is chilly here in February. We gather inside a building in order that we might go out to encounter the divine Presence in all of creation and in all other people. Church buildings are intentional sacred space set aside to help us become more sensitive to the sacred beyond the walls within which we gather for worship.

Gathering for worship in a building is an opportunity to step aside for a moment from the pressured maelstrom of daily life that makes it so hard to perceive the subtle presence of the sacred.

Being in community with other human beings is often “uncomfortable.” In my experience I have grown most when I have been willing to embrace the often awkward reality of other people. Identifying with a visible manifestation of community in a building enables me to embody my commitment to human community and to sticking it out with a group of people even when this may be painful.

I wonder how consistent, long-standing, and reliable relationships are that are formed around “meditation on my own or with others at the beach.” I wonder if this mediation beach community is able to include, as does the community with which I worship every Sunday, small children, teenagers, people in their middle years, and the elderly. Does it reach across the economic divide to embrace those who receive social assistance and those who have a six figure income? Does this beach community transcend disagreements and turmoil? Is there provision to facilitate participation by people in wheel chairs and those whose vision and hearing are impaired? Does it reach out with love and compassion to those who are struggling and hurting beyond its identifiable parameters?

The world desperately needs communities that form around a shared commitment to love, compassion, and kindness. The church in which I work is far from perfect, but it seeks to meet the high challenge of the peace, compassion, and love we see embodied in Jesus. This feels like something that might be worth working to preserve.

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